In the space of 11 minutes, Grayson Allen went from thinking he had made the shot to send Duke to the Final Four – what would have become his signature moment as a Duke player – to walking off the floor for the last time as a college player. Even in a career with as much tumult and turmoil as Allen's, that's an awfully big swing in an awfully short time.
It's understandable that he was having a difficult time managing his emotions after Sunday's 85-81 overtime loss to Kansas, given not only the circumstances but just how close his shot at the end of regulation came to going in before it bounced, one last time, off the rim and out.
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Even in this moment of grief, when his younger teammates stared blankly at their phones or wiped away tears, Allen didn't know whether to laugh or cry, crushed by the immensity of emotion.
“It's way different from a loss, because after a loss your mind knows there's something else,” Allen said. “There's two parts of my mind right now, one fighting and telling me all my plans for playing in the Final Four my final year are still going to happen. The other part is telling me, sorry, it's done. It's really hard to grasp. So many emotions come pouring out at once. I feel like I could smile or cry. It's a lot.”
So the career that began in earnest when Allen burst onto the scene late in his freshman year, having an unexpected and critical impact in the 2015 national-championship game against Wisconsin, ended with Allen's last, best shot rimming out. It was a tough regional for him otherwise, going a combined 5-for-23 from 3-point range in the win over Syracuse and loss to Kansas, and he wasn't alone as the Blue Devils never quite reached the level they attained in their first- and second-round wins, when they looked like an unbeatable machine.
In an era where four-year stars are rare, particularly at Duke, Allen's career was unusual even beyond the way it ended. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called him “one of the most outstanding players to have ever played in our program.” He was the most hated player in college basketball, the most scrutinized, the most polarizing – and he ended it with a national championship, an ACC championship and a 12-3 record in the NCAA tournament, but without being able to put a final stamp on it as a leader of this team of freshmen, even if he came within centimeters of it.
“I made it through. I'm here now,” Allen said. “I'm a much better player and much better man than I was when I first came in. I made some amazing relationships with the guys in this locker room, a lot of guys in past locker rooms that aren't here, and the coaching staff. ...
“Obviously I went through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of rough moments, a rough patch last year and then on top of that being injured, I couldn't really play much basketball at all. But I got my love for the game. It's there and it's not going anywhere. Neither is my love for Duke.”
Allen has been such a fixture at Duke, and in the national spotlight, it seemed like one last appearance on the Final Four stage was almost inevitable, until it wasn't.
“It'll probably take me a few days to really realize this is it,” Allen said. “You can't really put into words that emotion. It just kind of hits you. Hits you deep.”